The Fijian Cabinet is set to review—and possibly end— 2010's Surfing Decree, a law which gave public access to Cloudbreak and Restaurants.
Fiji is paradise, yes? Floating sense drunk all day in the perfection of Tavarua or Namotu, it’s the goofy-footer’s Eden.
For the traveler it’s as fantastic as it is fleeting, like paint in a paper bag. And there’s always the itch to come back by hell or high water. But the means might narrow if some in the Fijian government have their way.
Next week, the Fijian Cabinet is set to review—and possibly end— the 2010 Surfing Decree, a law which gave public access to private spots such as Cloudbreak and Restaurants. Prior to 2010, if ya’ wanted to scratch your itch, you’d have to stay at privately-owned Tavarua.
Fijian politics is storied. There’s a history of conflicts on the pacific island chain with two universal hungers to blame: greed and ethnic tensions. In-fighting between the indigenous Fijians, or iTaukei, and Indo-Fijians, those brought over by colonial
England in the late nineteenth century to work the cane plantations. When the British coughed up its imperial rule in 1970, animosity between the two groups festered as property rights and usage issues proved too difficult to solve amicably. As a result came finger pointing, name calling, hair pulling, and a couple a coups.
In 2006, military boss Frank Bainimarama seized power from the elected government in a bloodless take-over motivated by these ethnic tensions and general corruption. In an attempt to boost the flow of foreign dollars into the hands of both groups, Bainimarama spearheaded the 2010 Surfers Decree by giving a shot to the surf-tourism industry, ending exclusivity rights to the few, thereby allowing any charter boat within a wave’s range to bring as many surfers as possible into the water. Cloudbreak and Restaurants, and similar waves were no longer private oases.
Power to the people! The many, oh, so many people.
Surf-tourism is bigger than ever on the Fijian Islands. Because the wave-front resorts no longer control access to the famous waves, stay anywhere you can find, rent a square on a boat, and chance the time of your stupid life. And you can do it cheaper than staying at one of the premiere hotels so guys and dolls like you and me can sport the bill without selling our children. It also spreads bucks into the hands of more native Fijians, indigenous and Indo.
On the negative, this open-door policy (no political discussions in the comments, please) has led to dangerous overcrowding.
Like Wade Carmichael in boardshorts.
Maybe more revealing is the perceived disrespect of the hoteliers shown to indigenous groups. Before the 2010 Decree, hotels were required to pay 5% earnings tribute to the Fijians. This was dropped in the Decree. Guess how much is reported to be given back now? Surprise! You guessed it.
So, who knows where the Cabinet’s review will lead. Maybe we’ll be forced to tunnel through a select few hotels again. Either way, bet that we’ll all be paying out the nose. (Of course, there are heaps of other breaks less advertised to check out.)
Writer and money bags William Finnegan, who surfed the islands decades before many, shared his waffling. “I really did think it [closed access] was kind of politically indefensible,” Billy said. “But I wanted to surf it so much that I eventually went back there as a paying guest and surfed there for a number of years—as an embarrassed but happy paying guest.”
Whether the cost is a half-a-year rent payment or a forgettable card swipe for ya’, those waves furnish a lifetime of daydreams.
What about you?
Would you rather spend big money for a crowd-controlled wave like Cloudbreak or save some cash and wade around in the overcrowded sea of foam?